Homegrown Talent Initiative launched in school districts

photo by Kim Cameron |
photo by Kim Cameron | "West Grand School Board member Jeremy Bock brainstorms characteristics each learner should possess. The brainstorming session included other board members and West Grand staff and made use of the Silicon Valley concept of “yes a an atmosphere to create more ideas."

The initiative strives to connect businesses and students to create an educonomy.

West Grand and East Grand school districts are becoming more introspective as they develop a profile of characteristics they want their learners, and ultimately their graduates, to embody. During a brainstorming activity with the West Grand School board, words describing the portrait of a learner included communicative, collaborative, resilient with grit, driven by a core of character, confident, goal focused, connected, inquisitive, having ownership, and more.

These characteristics will be fine-tuned as more input is garnered from students and community groups until the school districts are able to capture what the most important characteristics are to develop in students to ensure their future success.

West Grand superintendent, Dr. Darrin Peppard said “We want to
be able to guarantee unequivocally that every graduate who walks
across the stage to receive their diploma has these qualities.”

These profiles are the basis of the Homegrown Talent Initiate (HTI) currently being launched in the Grand County school districts and will serve as a road map as the schools explore more opportunities for students. Done correctly, the HTI will help connect students, businesses, and the community to create: exposure to multiple career opportunities, the potential for post-secondary education credits, workforce readiness, and business partnerships within the community.

The HTI focuses on what makes Colorado and each community unique and will hopefully generate new career paths for students. It capitalizes on the idea of an educonomy, that education and the economy are connected and enrich each other.

Earlier this fall, eight Colorado school districts were selected to participate in the new statewide partnership facilitated by Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado Education Initiative. Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado Education Initiative provide essential funding, resources and support for the school districts as they develop partnerships and create the foundation of their own programs.

“We were fortunate to be included in the Homegrown Talent Initiative, which is a cooperative between Colorado Education Initiative and Colorado Succeeds,” said Dr. Peppard. “These two groups have put a lot of money, resources and support around furthering the work we have been trying to accomplish with career-to-school.”

Dr. Peppard also emphasized none of the district’s money is being used to develop the HTI program, it is all provided by the Colorado Education Initiative and Colorado Succeeds which are supported by the Daniels Fund, Walton Family Foundation, and Gill Foundation.

All the expenses associated with workshops and trips to visit other sites are covered. The initiative also gives $2500 seed money for incidental expenses, and later the program provides a professional graphic designer to develop a visual model for the portrait of the learner adopted by the District. According to Dr. Peppard, funding for the program could also continue in the future if

their final implementation plan is chosen for the implementation phase.
West Grand high school principal Liz Bauer said local community leadership involvement is key for the HTI. “The design team is not just school officials or the local board of education. Really it is bringing together everybody: k-12, our business partners, and our higher education leaders. That it is not one entitity’s job, but us as a community.”

To date, the HTI group from Grand County consists of representatives from the community, local businesses, higher education, and both school districts. Driven by Superintendents Darrin Peppard and Frank Reeves, the design group also includes a broad range of community members: Rhonda Shearer of Middle Park Health, Stuart Heller of TerraVita Farms, Brenda Kellen of Keller Williams Real Estate, Tara Sharp of the Kremmling Chamber of Commerce, Jessica Rahn of Mountain Parks Electric, Elaine Menardi of Colorado AeroLab, Ali Williams of the Granby Chamber of Commerce, Darcee Kissler and Kathy Kopp from the Grand County Higher Education, Tara Hosick of Freeport McMoRan, Cindy Rimmer, Thomas Byrnes and Ben Polonowski of the East Grand School District, and Liz Bauer and Jen Hooks of the West Grand School District.

“The whole process of designing the program and creating pathways to economic opportunity is very intentional,” commented Principal Bauer. “We are being very supported in this process.”

Another essential partner to develop the local HTI program has been Freeport McMoRan. Tara Hosick, Freeport McMoRan community development manager, offered funding for the two schools to hire a HTI facilitator that will help develop the program. HTI design team member, Ali Williams was hired to further bridge the gap between business and school.

“Freeport McMoRan’s support of this position will allow Williams to meet regularly with and recruit additional business partners and assist in creating opportunities for students,” Dr. Peppard explains Principal Bauer continues,

“Assistance to the business is really, really going to help make this sustainable.” She stressed it is important to work with businesses
to facilitate and shape a positive experience for students and businesses.
“We need assistance to show what the program looks like and how to do it. We have missed these components in the past.”

In September, the HTI design teams from each of their districts, had the opportunity to attend a two-day work session in Breckenridge. and later in November, they traveled to Canon City to see a program already in place.

The Canon City program is considered an exemplar program that was predominantly developed by the business sector of Canon City to help supplement and enrich the school’s programs with
job shadowing and internships.

The West Grand and East Grand School Districts will host the Colorado Education Initiative and Colorado Succeeds in Grand County January 15-16, with an open house planned on January 15 at 5 p.m. at River Run in Granby.

The two districts will have a work day on next steps with Colorado Education Initiative and Colorado Succeeds on January 16 in Kremmling at the Chamber of Commerce. Next in March, the design groups will visit a program in St. Vrain, and in May, each of the school district’s design teams will be finalizing their implementation plans. The implementation phase
will then occur for each district chosen to continue in the program.

“Seeing is believing,” said Superintendent Peppard of the design team’s visit to Canon City.

“Our visit really sparked a lot of ideas for our program.”

For more information, or to become involved in the HTI,
contact West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard at 970-724-3217 or peppardd@wgsd.us or East Grand Superintendent Frank Reeves at 970-887-2581 or frank.reeves@egsd.org.